A California group now owns BSR Cable Park, an attraction off Old Mexia Road that developed a Jekyll-and-Hyde reputation as deaths and lawsuits came alongside good times and surfing competitions.
The four business partners controlling what is now called Waco Surf have ties to San Diego, California, although David Taylor lives in Waco and worked with former owner Stuart Parsons. He remembers the “explosion in the surfing world” when BSR invited enthusiasts to ride the new waves in central Texas.
But he also remembers what BSR, now Waco Surf, has become in the eyes of some. Taylor said BSR set the mood of “loose, wild and a bit reckless”. He said he would not have taken his preschool daughter there under the old leadership.
“That culture has changed,” Taylor said. “It takes time to get rid of the old energy, the old vibe, but we see what it can become. The place is amazing, safe, fun, bright and vibrant. It’s a special place to go, magical.”
But fantasy doesn’t come cheap, as new owners have learned. The partners paid $2 million to install a new water filtration system as their interest in acquiring the Parsons site grew. Crews have upgraded what they call Waco Beach, placing Surfside Shack there to serve tacos, salads, burgers, Pinewood Coffee products and cold drinks. The Dive Bar has something stronger.
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“Before, they relied on food trucks to keep people happy,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he and a management team worked with Parsons to install the filtration system, “which was a condition of the deal.”
Two VIP suites have been added to the Waco Surf Hotel, where 11 existing rooms have received new paint, fixtures and furnishings. Rooms with an ocean view rent for $279 a night, those on the garden side for $259 a night. Lodging has become a priority as the property seeks to promote the park’s new Stay and Surf program that provides guests with limited water access, Taylor said.
New to Waco Surf is the recovery pool, “for those who need to rest up after a full day of shredding the waves,” a press release says.
Construction will begin in July on something new, a simulated river wave between the cable park and the surf park. The water coming up a ridge will serve as a learning tool for beginners in surfing, Taylor said.
“You can learn the sport before moving on to the wave pool,” he said.
“One of our biggest investments has been in the (wave) pool,” Taylor said. “We poured a bunch of new concrete, reassembled the liner, and now the water is crystal clear, like you’re surfing in Fiji. We made infrastructure improvements to support pool operations. We cleaned up the slide area, rearranged the slides and jumps in the cable park, which were not up to industry standards.”
Taylor said the water park will officially reopen to the public on May 7, the day before Mother’s Day. Surf sessions are now available by reservation and the cable park will open on April 2. Other attractions are the Lazy River and Waco Beach & Surf Center.
“Waco Surf is truly a unique attraction that will add to Waco’s statewide, national and even international appeal,” Carla Pendergraft, who markets the Waco Convention Center, said in response to the new owner.
Pendergraft said Waco Surf has the world’s longest lazy river, attracts serious professional surfers from around the world “and is becoming one of the attractions we use to differentiate Waco from other cities.”
Taylor said the property hopes to add a new attraction each year, possibly two, and has an additional 300 acres available for expansion. He said the investors owned the entire 500-acre site and Parsons was no longer involved.
He said that ideally the park will attract 3,000 people a day on weekends in the spring and summer. Early estimates suggest visitors will pay around $40 per day per person, with cable and surf parks priced separately, he said.
“We approached Stuart about acquiring the park. It was time for him to pass on this thing,” Taylor said. “He created something amazing, but he didn’t have the operational skills or didn’t really want to direct it. But he created something special, and we appreciate that.”
Taylor said his partner Luke Schock, of San Diego, has more than 30 years of experience in the banking industry and serves the group as a financing resource.
“He’s been instrumental in helping us align funding, and he’s in charge of capital growth projects,” Taylor said. “We are a small group that does everything on its own. We are not venture capital or private equity. We will grow consciously, one attraction or two attractions at a time.”
Discussing demographics, Taylor said 60% to 70% of those who visit the park during the summer are from Texas. Conversely, about 70% of those here to participate in a “surfer component” are from out of state.
Brothers Jason and Matt Simmons, also from San Diego, “have extensive experience in land development and land rights. They were incredibly helpful in getting water and power to the site, subdividing the property. They are very active when it comes to development projects.”
The park’s wave pool opened in the spring of 2018 and was the first of its kind, allowing the speed, size and shape of each wave to be tailored. That fall, a New Jersey man who had surfed there died of an amoeba, known as the “brain-eating amoeba,” which health officials later found in one of the plans of park water. The man’s family then sued the park. A new filtration system was added the following summer.
The park was also the site of two drownings. A 42-year-old man was found unconscious in the wave pool on the night of July 4, 2019, and a 12-year-old boy, who officials at the time said had become estranged from his family, drowned at a swimming area in June 2014. Officials said the swimming area was marked “swim at your own risk” and the child was found under inflatable play equipment.
The previous owner and two employees were also arrested for assault in May 2014, which were later dropped. Four guests involved in the incident sued the park. A lawyer at the time described the incident as a “drunken fight”.